Comparison

Even Ford Raptor lovers have to admit, there's areas where the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX wins

The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is a compelling truck for off-road enthusiasts.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Part of this whole "automotive journalism" thing is I get to drive new cars. Years ago, my very first loan was a 2013 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, with the 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8 making 414 horsepower. I was hooked.

Raptor quickly became my favorite pickup, and the changes the company made for the big 2017 refresh only made the truck better. Yes, Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost doesn't sound meaty like a V8, but it is faster and lighter. Add on the LiveValve suspension technology from 2019 and you have the ingredients for my favorite pickup truck.

2017 Ford F-150 RaptorFord Performance showcases the jumping power of the Ford Raptor at Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

But, I also understand that competition is necessary to make products better. Consumers win where there is competition, so when I caught wind of Ram Trucks building their Raptor-fighter I was all for it.

So, while I haven't had a chance to drive the new Ram TRX, I do believe it's a truck that I could easily fall in love with. It might even replace the precious Raptor as my favorite truck. But why would it? Here's some areas where the TRX, at least on paper, beats the Raptor.

Power plant

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Raptor's 3.5-liter EcoBoost makes a perfectly acceptable 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. At no point driving Raptor have I ever thought, "Hmm, this needs more oomph." Yet, here we are with 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque in the TRX.

The EcoBoost in the Raptor will undoubtedly weigh less than the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 in the TRX, which always helps with handling, but in sheer grunt the Ram wins the day.

Exhaust note

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

My only real complaint about Raptor is how the truck sounds. I want a trophy truck to sound like a trophy truck, and not a modified Focus RS. The sound doesn't hurt the Raptor's performance at all but listening to the Ram TRX rev is like listening to the approaching apocalypse. It's glorious.

Technology

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The Raptor is filled with modern tech, especially for off-road driving. So is the TRX, which has more USB ports (Types A and C) and a larger infotainment screen.

One interesting thing that the Ram offers that I'd love to see on the F-150 lineup is a color head-up display. Is it necessary? No, but it's one piece of tech that the Ram has that can benefit you when you're jumping dunes – knowing at what speed you hit that dune as you keep your eyes focused ahead.

Standard equipment

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Yes, the Raptor is less expensive for the base model ($53,455), which makes it a smarter buy if you just want to jump the dunes for less. But, the Ram TRX has more on its base truck than any other Hellcat-equipped FCA product, making it a bit of a bargain (if $70,000 is a bargain).

Wheels and tires

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

TRX comes with bead-lock capable wheels and 35-inch tires as standard. The bead-lock capable wheels on the Raptor are an optional upgrade. Also, the Raptor drives around on "just" 34-inch tires, while the TRX goes bigger.

Spare tire

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

From the factory, both trucks come with a spare tire mounted underneath the bed, like on a typical truck. But if you're an off-roader, you likely would like access to that tire made easier. The Mopar accessory catalog includes a spare tire carrier, which will be able to be added to the bill when your truck is ordered and installed at the factory before delivery.

For the Raptor, there are many options available for putting one or two spare tires in the bed, but none are currently available from Ford to be installed for delivery.

So, where does Raptor win?

2017 Ford F-150 Raptor

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Raptor's EcoBoost engine has been used during the Baja 1000 and tested extensively for desert performance. While Ram says they durability tested the motor – plus it's in thousands of vehicles already – they haven't built a race truck yet.

The Raptor will also have better fuel economy, especially with the 10-speed automatic transmission compared to Ram's eight-speed in the TRX. It's not much better, mind you, but it'll be better.

This might be personal preference, but BFG's K02s that come standard on Raptor are more appealing to me as an all-terrain tire than the Goodyear on the TRX. On paper, the same applies for the Fox Racing shocks; I haven't seen how these Bilsteins perform yet.

2017 Ford F-150 Raptor

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The Raptor will likely have a bit better handling. It'll be a lighter truck with less weight in the nose, which will make it steer and handle a bit better. How much better? I'm itching to get behind the wheel and find out.

Finally, the Raptor, in its current guise, is cheaper. A fully loaded Launch Edition TRX is over $90,000. It starts a shade under $70,000 for the base truck. Yes, there's more standard features but there's a significant price jump from Raptor's approximately $54,000 base price. All in, albeit for a few accessories like a tonneau cover, the Raptor comes to around $72,000.

The ultimate winner?

Until the trucks are driven back-to-back there's no clear winner. If you like just pure horsepower, the Ram is what you want. But the Raptor is still an immensely capable pickup with a proven record of performance.

With that being said, the Ram TRX appears to be an EXTREMELY compelling offering and will likely sell like bananas. At least until Ford releases an updated Raptor here in the near future.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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New electric SUV

Honda teases its first EV

The Prologue will go on sale as a 2024 model.

Honda

Honda is nearing the unveiling of its first electric vehicle, the Prologue, and today the automaker gave us our first glimps of the new vehicle. It's just a sketch, but Honda did share some production details and information on its product roadmap.

Honda DealerHonda plans to sell half a million EVs by the end of the decade. Honda

Honda says the Prologue will be an adventure-ready SUV "capable of satisfying everyday driving and weekend getaways with a strong hint of the well-received Honda e in the front fascia." The SUV was developed in Honda's Design Studio in Los Angeles, and was designed with an eye on Honda's global EV models. Honda said it focused on aerodynamics and fine-tuning the body to reducelines and improve range.

The Japanese automaker developed the Prologue alongside GM, but it has other EVs coming to market by 2026. By 2030, Honda says it will release 30 new EVs globally with a production volume of two million units. The co-developed vehicle is the first, but the rest will be built on Honda e:Architecture. In 2027, the automaker will begin building and selling a line of affordable EVs using the architecture developed with General Motors. Honda says it plans to sell half a million EVs in North America by the end of hte decade.

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